Vale’s fate was realistically sealed by the end of October
Hindsight is a wonderful gift but realistically Vale of Lune’s season in the North Premier was over, to all intents and purposes, by the end of October after they failed to win one of their opening eight games.
Their match points total stood at a meagre five and they were bottom of the table.
Unfortunately, the omens were not in Vale’s favour because only rarely does a club escape the sharp blade of Madame Guillotine when they are bracketed in the bottom three at the end of the second month with such a paltry return and so it came to pass that the tumbrils rolled for Vale.
The writing was on the wall for Vale when after an inconclusive pre-season, they travelled to Blaydon with a squad shorn of a host of players who had helped to secure promotion during the 2017/18 season, and were hammered 92-12.
At the time this was their heaviest ever league defeat, worse was to follow however, because in February, when they visited Hull, they were thrashed 97-0.
A major factor in the open salvos of the campaign was Vale’s inability to field a settled side of experienced players and by the end of October, when they ended their run of defeats at Lymm in a 38-38 draw, they had used 35 players of which five were debutants.
Regular players from the previous season were in short supply in the opening eight games and it was rarely they were included in the squad on a regular basis.
Threequarters Jonty Higgin and Olly Jacques played in six, Jordan Dorrington and Fergus Owens and forward Sam Wallbank featured in five, while backs Ben Dorrington, Jack Turton and Damon Hall in only three.
Without players of such calibre, who were all seasoned campaigners, Vale struggled, not only for consistency, but confidence. The magic of the previous season had disappeared well before Christmas, it briefly returned in a false dawn of hope and expectation in January but by the end of the month Alnwick had pricked the balloon of optimism to further shorten the odds on relegation.
Three weeks later a home defeat inflicted by fellow strugglers Lymm shackled Vale firmly to the unforgiving chains of relegation.
Selection was to become a perennial problem due in the main to unavailability because of work commitments and injury, with 50 players making first team appearances, included in this total were 14 on debut.
Logic suggests that a more settled side would have made quite a difference but it was not to be, as players were pitch forked into the side from the seconds, thirds and colts.
It was a scatter gun approach that proved to be unsustainable at the level Vale were playing at with alas, the inevitable outcome.
The meagre yield of points comprised 62 tries, 38 conversions and nine penalties.
Damon Hall from his 16 appearances was the leading points scorer with 95; seven tries, 21 conversions and six penalty goals.
Fergus Owens, who posted the only try hat-trick of the campaign, and Chris Ramwell were joint leading try scorers with eight each.
It has been difficult to unearth many positives from the slag heap of relegation but a few little nuggets did emerge.
The manner of the first win against Billingham brought a degree of promise as did the performances against Kendal and Ilkley and before the injury to Kirkby Lonsdale’s Cameron Dale which caused the home game to be abandoned in September when the Vale were leading 15-5.
Wirral showed their experience at Level five by managing to defend their one point lead against a battling Vale at Powderhouse Lane, to win 13-12.
The other draw was at Wilmslow, 7-7 in dire encounter in the final game of the year.
The annual players awards evening will be held in the clubhouse on Friday, May 6 at.
Vale’s Annual General Meeting and the election of officials for next season will also be held in the clubhouse on Thursday May16 at 7.30pm.